A charter school that has been unable to open in Wake County now wants to relocate to Franklin County, over the objections of school leaders who say it will hurt their court-mandated desegregation efforts.
The N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board recommended Thursday allowing Wake Preparatory Academy, which has been blocked from opening in Wake Forest, to open in 2022 in Franklin County.
But a complication facing the relocation request is that Franklin County is one of the last North Carolina school districts under an active federal school desegregation order.
The request will now go to the State Board of Education, where advisory board members said they expect the relocation to get more scrutiny than normal.
“I understand the legal issues around this,” said advisory board member Cheryl Turner. “I don’t think it’s fair to take those legal issues out on Wake Prep. They need to obviously be aware that they’re going to be under high scrutiny with the student body that they pull from Franklin County.”
Charter schools are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow.
Wake Prep plans to open with 1,605 K-12 students and eventually serve more than 2,000 students annually. It would be managed by Charter One, a company owned by Glenn Way, who has made millions of dollars building, selling and leasing properties to the charter schools he runs in Arizona, according to the Arizona Republic.
Charter looking for school site
The state board had voted to allow Wake Prep to open in Wake Forest in 2020 over the objections of the Wake County school system. But due to delays getting site plan approval, it’s gotten state permission to delay opening until 2022.
Wake Prep is suing Wake Forest, but its appeal was denied in state Superior Court. Charter One is appealing to the state Court of Appeals out of concern the case could become a precedent for municipalities to block charter schools.
Wake Prep now wants to relocate 1.4 miles from its Wake Forest site into Franklin County. Relocation requests that move charter schools across county lines need state approval.
“Our interest list continues to climb significantly, now representing approximately 7,000 students, comprising families from both Wake County and Franklin County,” Hilda Parler, president of the board of directors of Wake Prep, wrote in a letter requesting relocation approval.
Parler is also a member of the Charter Schools Advisory Board. She recused herself from Thursday’s vote.
Charges of school segregation
In an impact statement, the Franklin County school system cites how it has been required by federal court order since 1968 to racially balance schools as much as practicable. But school leaders say more than 70% of the Franklin County students who attend charter schools are white, exacerbating their desegregation efforts.
“The data is clear: The charter schools in our area do not represent the racial/ethnic diversity of our community,” according to Franklin County’s impact statement. “Every indication, both from the current trajectory of charter schools in our area and the track record of Charter One and American Leadership Academy, is that opening the door to Wake Preparatory Academy in Franklin County will further stratify the population both racially and socioeconomically.”
In its response letter, Wake Prep says Franklin County should be welcoming rather than fighting the charter school. They repeatedly point to how they’ll give application priority to low-income applicants and will provide bus service and meals to students.
“Let’s be clear. Wake Prep and Charter One absolutely disagree with and condemn these accusations of segregation,” Wake Prep says in its response letter.
Wake Prep is among the recipients of a federal grant to diversify charter schools.
Joe Maimone, director of finance for the Southeast schools for Charter One, said he’s confident they can financially support the busing and meals after the grant runs out. Maimone is a former Charter Schools Advisory Board member.
Kyle Shrauger, vice president of Wake Prep’s board, told the advisory board they’re willing to work with Franklin County despite their opposition.
“We have them on record assuring us that they’re going to take the steps necessary in order to make sure that they have a diverse and representative student population,” said advisory board member Terry Stoops. “We’re going to hold them to that. I take them at their word on that.”